One of the most interesting stories from the Book of Mormon is the 200 of Helaman’s warriors who fell wounded in battle (see Alma 57:25). I can’t help but see the parallels between those 200 warriors and today’s missionaries who, for any number of reasons, return home earlier than anticipated.
Even though the 200 left their homes with the most valiant of intentions, they found themselves having to be carried off the battlefield. I would hope that they saw themselves as valiant, having given their all, but I’m guessing that they experienced self-doubts as well as questioned why they hadn’t been as protected as their peers.
Like Helaman’s warriors, missionaries who return prematurely from their missions often overlook the fact that they did volunteer and go into the “battle,” heroically giving their all. They prepared for their missions and were filled with great faith and a desire to serve the Lord. When they “fall wounded” (facing, for example, physical or mental health issues or even transgression), they often focus on what they didn’t accomplish and feel disappointed, embarrassed, or discouraged. They may question the inspiration that led them to serve. These returned missionaries may worry how other people view them or even how the Lord views them. They may feel like they have failed or are unacceptable and may judge themselves negatively.
Missionaries who return home earlier than planned need the united efforts of family, friends, leaders, and ward members to help them “heal.” Here are some tips for both returned missionaries and their family members, Church leaders, friends, and ward members.
Reach out in love to comfort, reassure, and care for each returned missionary and his or her family as you would a warrior who fell wounded in battle. Thank them for the service they performed, encouraging them to focus on what they did, not on what they didn’t do.
Refer to him or her as a “returned missionary” and not an “early-returned” or “early-released missionary.” Sensitive words can help with the needed healing and recovery.
Listen to them in order to discern how you can best help.
Support their parents. That may be one of the more critical variables to impact the missionary’s healing process. Be careful not to neglect the emotional needs of the parent of a returning missionary.
Seek professional counseling if necessary. Mental health professionals can help returned missionaries adjust to life back at home and get them back on track. Where available, LDS Family Services offers up to six free counseling sessions upon request for early-returned missionaries.
Seek spiritual direction. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray for direction in how you can best support them and fulfill their needs.
God loves you. All of us experience adversity at various times on our mortal journey. Faith in Jesus Christ is not an immunization against adversity—it’s a principle that can help you through it. Because of His atoning sacrifice, Christ has the power to not only cleanse us from sin but also to provide solace, understanding, healing, and support. (See Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s general conference address, “Like a Broken Vessel.”)
The scriptures tell of healing. God speaks through the Holy Ghost, accessed through, among other things, the sincere study and application of the scriptures. Read about Helaman’s warriors, and others who fell wounded in their journey through life, to find understanding. Look for other examples of how Heavenly Father ministered to and helped heal those who sought to follow Him in the past.
Service helps you heal. God wants you to be “anxiously engaged” in good causes (see Doctrine and Covenants 58:27) because that is what will help you heal. Look outward and pray for opportunities to serve others.
Prayer can open your eyes. Express gratitude to Heavenly Father. He wants to help you heal. Ask Him to strengthen you and open your eyes to things He is already doing to bless and heal you and also for strength to look outside yourself to bless others.
Others might not understand. Not everyone will understand your situation, and they might say things out of ignorance. But don’t let this get you down! Focus on expressing gratitude for those who strengthen you, and pray for help to forgive others if they don’t understand your situation completely.